Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone goes on trial, denying charges of bribery
Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone went on trial in Germany on Thursday, denying charges of bribery that threaten to land the British billionaire in jail.
Ecclestone, 83, is accused of paying a German banker tens of millions of dollars to ensure his continued grip on the motor sports empire he built up virtually single-handedly over four decades.
The mop-topped, diminutive F1 magnate entered the packed Munich courtroom in his trademark black suit and white shirt, saying only: “I’m confident, the sun is shining.”
The defendant then confirmed his name and personal details, stumbling briefly before saying “Yes, I am married”, to which judge Peter Noll replied: “OK, those were the easy questions”.
Ecclestone then silently followed line by line on paper the prosecution brief, which alleges serious corruption charges that carry a maximum jail term of 10 years.
His lawyer Sven Thomas dismissed the allegations as “inaccurate, misleading and unsubstantiated”, saying “the alleged bribery did not take place”.
He also declared that Ecclestone does not intend to speak for now in the trial that is set to run until September.
The case centres on a payment Ecclestone made to a German banker eight years ago, and the question is whether it was a bribe or – as the defence claims – hush money after a blackmail attempt.
The cash changed hands at a time when a German corporate bankruptcy had left several banks in charge of major stakes of the Formula One enterprise, which Ecclestone had built up since the 1970s.
Ecclestone paid US$44 million to Gerhard Gribkowsky, then the risk manager of one of the banks, Germany’s Bayern.
Prosecutors charge that the money was a bribe meant to ensure Bayern sold its shares to Ecclestone’s preferred bidder, CVC Capital Partners of Britain, now the sport’s majority shareholder.